Alessandro Gisotti – Vatican City
“It is impossible to think of a conversion of our activity as a Church that does not include the active participation of all the members of God’s People.” Pope Francis emphasized this in his letter to the People of God published on 20 August regarding the abuse scandal. This is the spirit in which Gabriella Gambino and Linda Ghisoni, Undersecretaries for the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life see themselves involved in the organizing Committee preparing for the February conference on the protection of children in the Vatican. Vatican News spoke with Gabriella Gambino, Undersecretary for the Section for Life, regarding this task and how the laity can contribute in dealing with the abuse crisis.
In what spirit did you welcome this task surrounding such an important and awaited event?
With a profound spirit of service to the Church, but also out of love for the truth, justice and goodness. This is about reestablishing values and principles in the case of abuse, both on the individual level (relating to single cases), and on the institutional level, in every country in the world, even in those places where the problem and the need to prevent it is still undervalued. I do not hide the fact that I accepted the task with a bit of fear as well, given the delicateness and gravity of the matter. As a woman, layperson and mother, I cannot but perceive the co-responsibility to which we are all called and the horror regarding what has emerged regarding others who could be our children. All of us need to collaborate so as to create conditions both inside and outside of the Church to radically change the mentality, the customs and the culture that allowed all of this to happen.
In the letter to the People of God on the abuse scandals, the Pope asked the laity to help the bishops and the Church. What is the laity’s specific contribution on this journey which will be reinforced with the meeting in February?
Helping the bishops understand that the mentality that favored these abuses in not theoretical or abstract, but is manifested through concrete, clearly identifiable behavior and attitudes insofar as they are capable of harming and exploiting those who are the smallest and the weakest. We can help the bishops understand that the time has come for the laity to be at their side, creating supervisory structures and places for listening in which we can play significant roles. I think there is also the possibility of studying models of active intervention that involve the laity, to recognize dangerous situations needing immediate and adequate intervention. According to country, there is also the need to understand how abuse against women, children and vulnerable adults can manifest itself in diverse ways. Competent and trained lay people are needed who can bring their own contribution based on experience, as parents and educators, who deal every day with human weakness.
How can such a commitment be translated into concrete actions?
To translate the desire of co-responsibility and transparency into actions, it is necessary that everyone be involved, religious and laity. Only in this way will the Church be able to effectively make use of all of the resources at its disposal, above all in preventing these grave forms of violence once and for all. As laity, we must create alliances between the various educational areas where our children grow up: schools, parishes and families. Such an alliance today is in many ways non-existent, it’s fictitious, and we as parents often feel powerless. We need to reconstruct this alliance, collaborating for the purpose of authentic prevention in parishes, in schools, in lay movements and associations. Unlike Cain, as the Holy Father reminded us in the letter to the People of God, we must make ourselves each other’s “keeper” in order to protect our children, without fear, and with a sense of responsibility.
The abuse scandal, is putting the credibility of the Church to the test. What is your opinion regarding where it needs to start to recuperate the trust of the many people who feel betrayed?
As I said, I think the Church needs to equip itself with concrete tools to suppress and punish the abuses, as well as to prevent these crimes. Prevention requires that the legal aspect be clearly defined on the one hand, and on the other hand decisions need to be made to create the practical conditions to change the system, the culture and the customs. One of the prerequisites is to enact a reform of the formation of religious and seminarians. I think, for example, that in forming these persons to be chaste and celibate, greater attention needs to be paid to a balanced relationship between one’s own sexuality and affectivity. The real problem is, in fact, how we perceive and understand our sexuality.
Are the examples of the good that the Church is doing also important?
Yes. The laity’s trust will be recuperated by remembering and witnessing to the good that is in the Church. Goodness exists and the Lord’s spirit of love keeps Christ firmly at the side of His Spouse, even when original sin manifests itself in the worst of crimes. It is also true, however, that given the general climate of suspicion that is spreading, voices that testify to authentic love for Christ are needed in the Church. He is the centre, the Light, the concrete presence that the shepherds need to proclaim with their life and with their priestly vocation. Today more than ever, as lay people, we need this witness in order to begin to entrust our children once again to parishes, prayer centres, Catholic schools, where they can be formed according to Christian values. The Church needs pastors who are courageous in truth and in the Love of Christ. This is the model of man, of father, and of educator, that we seek for our children.
As a mother, even before having a responsibility in a Vatican Dicastery, what hope do you have for the conference in February?
I hope to see an intelligent, decisive desire to understand the problem, interior conversion, an openness to truth and to goodness. There is no need to be afraid of the truth. I hope that the meeting might be a way to make the tools that are immediately accessible from the juridical perspective more widely known to prevent and suppress such abuses. The time has come to act in such a way that the Church of love is also the place in which justice and truth can meet. The Church “as a loving mother”, has the divine mandate to take care of all of her children. Creating the conditions and the structures that make interventions for the protection of a victim accessible and possible is not only an act of justice, but of charity, even towards the perpetrator. Only in this way can the Church become credible once again in this area.
Working translation from the Italian original.